Our home during dinnertime has become a bit of an obstacle course. While I cook, my daughter Eleanor likes to scurry all over the kitchen, running full speed around our island until she collapses from exhaustion. It’s a funny scene to observe. Most days, I find it hilarious, and my husband and I share a good laugh over it – but lately, it’s been the opposite. By 6 PM, I’m worn over the constant disciplining of our sweet, but strong-willed, 20-month-old. I’m exhausted from washing piles of laundry that seem to never end. The day and all its chores have left me spent and weary.
Just recently, we had an incident that left my head spinning. As I was finishing dinner one night, I heard the familiar sound of Eleanor’s feet pitter-pattering on our tile floor. She began tugging at my jeans, exclaiming, “Read! Read!” while holding up her favorite book. Frustrated, I quickly told her to wait until after dinner, before turning back to finish cooking. She began to cry and motioned for me to hold her. Instead of calmly telling her I needed to finish making our supper, I gave in to my anger and sin. Before I could even think the words, I yelled at my daughter.
“Please just stop! Go in the living room so I can finish making our dinner!”
I couldn’t even finish the sentence before the guilt began welling up in my heart. My daughter looked up at me and burst into tears… and I did the same.
At that moment, I chose to give in to my flesh and yell in frustration. The annoyance and irritation I felt in my heart seeped through my lips as I spoke, and my daughter was affected by it.
After we cried for a moment, I confessed to her how I had sinned against her and God, and asked her to forgive Mommy. As I was getting ready for bed that night, I replayed the situation over in my head. I was grieved over how I had spoken to my daughter and how easily I let my anger take over me. As I read the Psalms before falling asleep, the Holy Spirit convicted my heart of how critical my words had become, especially at home with the ones I love most.
The Danger of the Tongue
The book of James speaks of the dangers of the tongue and how it can consume and destroy lives. James 3:3-12 says,
“If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a whole world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind but no human can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.
From the same mouth comes blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening of both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.” (ESV)
In this passage, James shows us that even though the tongue is a small member, it is mighty. A bit in the mouth of a horse and a rudder on a boat are minuscule in size when compared to the mechanism they control – but both instruments bear great influence and power. That same power lies within the tongue. The tongue projects the thoughts and intentions of our heart (Matthew 12:34) and it often reveals the deep sin that lies hidden beneath the surface.
Without Christ’s redemptive work in our lives, we are left to our sour words that spew cursing and death. No redeeming or life-giving speech can come from our lips. But when we trust in Christ, we become new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). The old life has passed away and a new one has begun. While this doesn’t mean we have ‘arrived’ or become sinless, it shows the Holy Spirit’s power to redeem all areas of a Christian’s life, including our speech. Proverbs 16:24 says, “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones.” (ESV)
This is the powerful work of the Spirit transforming our lives! No longer are we left to speech that sets ablaze everything in its path. Now our words are able to encourage and empower the saints, spurring on one another in serving Christ. Our words can now tell of God and the glorious works of His hands!
Our speech should also be a sign to the world that we are believers in Jesus. Colossians 4:6 says “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (ESV) When we speak, there should be something in our words that leaves people asking, “Who is she? What makes her so different?” The way we conduct ourselves in both action and speech should be an indication that we are not of this world. This will in turn provide us with opportunities to share the glorious hope we have in Christ.
So friend, when the temptation comes to speak an unkind word, to shout in unrighteous anger, or make a cutting, sarcastic remark – stop and pray. Ask that God would rid your heart of sin and equip you to speak words that will give life to those around you. Open your Bible and let His word renew your mind and transform your heart.
This process of taming your tongue doesn’t happen overnight. For many of us, it will be a long, hard road that Christ calls us to walk. But what a joy, that God doesn’t leave us in our selfish, sinful ways, but sanctifies us to look more like our Savior Jesus Christ. May we honor Him with speech that glorifies his name and points a lost and dying world to the hope we have in Jesus.